Art and Material: The Sculptor's studio

This space invites you to use your senses to become immersed in a sculptor's studio. Visitors can discover how the sculptor works and become familiar with the tools, materials and the sensory world of a studio. This space explores the history and techniques of sculpture as well as the stages in the creation of a sculpture, from model to finished work. Our senses of Hear, Smell, Touch, and See are the tools used for a full immersion in this unique world.

Raoux Pygmalion
RAOUX Jean ( Montpellier, 1677 - Paris, 1734 ), 'Pygmalion falls in love with his statue', 1717, Oil on canvas

Modelling

HOUDON Jean Antoine ( Versailles, 1741 - Paris, 1828 ), L'Hiver ("La frileuse") (esquisse), 1781,Terre cuite
HOUDON Jean Antoine, 'Winter' ("The shivering girl") (model), 1781, clay

  

Until the end of the 19th century a sculptor rarely worked alone. In the studio the master would direct the different creative stages whilst at the same time teaching his apprentice. The artist would start by drawing his statue. Then he gave life to his idea in a material which was easy to manipulate such as wax or clay. This first model could lead to the final piece or to further stages with other versions which would be translated into different materials.

Humans have worked in clay since time began; it is a fundamental material. It is easy to work, reusable and economic, yet after firing it is hard and long lasting. Clay is often used as a material for forming ideas but it can also be used to create a finished piece of art.

As in ancient times, sculptors and ceramicists use cut-off wire, cutting tools and modelling tools to separate, trim and refine the ductile mass. Hands and fingers squeeze, handle and shape the material volume. It is not rare to find the maker's fingerprints left on the clay.

Carving

Anonyme, Auguste Baussan dans son atelier travaillant à la sculpture du Saint-Roch
Anonymous , 'Auguste Baussan in his studio, working on the sculpture of Saint-Roch'

 A sculptor can use a 'pointing machine' to create a stone sculpture. This device can exactly reproduce a three dimensional finished model in a hard material (stone, marble etc) by using reference points and precise measures taken from the original cast. The artist begins by trimming the block of stone and sketching the form before using the pointing machine. At this stage the sculptor can choose to either keep the original dimensions of the model or to enlarge or reduce them whilst still maintaining the model's proportions.  This technique also enables copies to be made of ancient or contemporary works. The artist has also the option of directly carving the stone. Before the 19th century this was the most widely used, but also the most risky technique because solid marble leaves no margin for error; once carved the work cannot be changed. The final stages consist of polishing the stone to give a buffed visual finish and a smooth touch. 

Casting and Moulding

Denis Diderot et Jean le Rond d’Alembert,  Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1751 « Sculpture, fonte des statues équestres »  Planche Ière.
 
Denis Diderot et Jean le Rond d’Alembert,  Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1751 « Sculpture, fonte des statues équestres » Planche V.
 
Denis Diderot et Jean le Rond d’Alembert,  Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1751 « Sculpture, fonte des statues équestres » Planches IV et III.
Denis Diderot et Jean le Rond d’Alembert, 'Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers', 1751 « Sculpture, casting of equestrian statues » Plates I. III. IV and V.

Bronze has been used since 3000 B.C. It is an alloy consisting primarily of copper and tin. There are several casting techniques for bronze sculptures such as sand casting but lost wax casting is the most commonly used.

Starting with an original model in clay or plaster, the sculptor makes a hollow mould, often also in plaster. This is the outer footprint of the original model. Molten wax is poured into this hollow mould into the thin layer between the first model and the mould. Once the mould has been broken the wax model can be removed and worked more finely using metal tools. Then, several wax rods are attached to the model which is then encased in a mould, in a process known as flow moulding. The mould is heated in a kiln. The wax melts away and runs off through the tubes created by the rods, leaving behind an empty space between the outer mould and the core. The tubes serve to evacuate the air or the wax and then to pour molten bronze into the mould. The mould reaches over 1200°C during the process. Once cooled, the bronze is removed from the mould and the details worked by hand. The patina appears through the action of acids.

A bronze copy of Head of the Figure of Eloquence' sculpted by Antoine Bourdelle, brings to an end the space dedicated to the different modelling techniques.